Simon Fraser University

Kwan's academic career leans to unorthodox

May 29, 2003 , vol. 27, no. 3

By Roberta Staley
Alex Kwan (left), this year's winner of the deans undergraduate medal in applied sciences, has had a somewhat unorthodox academic career.

Kwan travelled to Europe on an exchange program to Lund University, Sweden, and completed a co-op program at a top semiconductor firm in Austria, where he also indulged his passion for hiking by trekking in the Austrian Alps. “I've never lived in another place since coming here from Hong Kong when I was 12. Travelling made me realize the world is a much bigger place, and it gave me a perspective on what I wanted to do,” says Kwan.

A Burnaby North secondary school alumnus, Kwan graduated from SFU with honours in engineering physics and a minor in statistics. Kwan was recently offered a $34,600 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) postgraduate scholarship but had to decline the scholarship when he opted instead to pursue a PhD in applied physics at Cornell University in New York this September.

Kwan published several papers as a result of his undergraduate research. One paper was presented at the prestigious International Electron Device meeting and two were submitted to Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. journals. Kwan also presented posters at student conferences in Halifax and Vancouver. “These were accomplished with a great deal of guidance from professors and other graduate students,” Kwan says.

Kwan anticipates continuing his SFU studies in condensed matter physics while at Cornell. This area of research investigates material properties that are not easily deducible from fundamental physical laws. Such studies have practical applications in lasers and transistors. “Who knows where it will lead us in the future?” Kwan muses.

Kwan lauds SFU's professors for their personal tutelage and the chance to teach other students introductory courses in physics, electronics and statistics. He is also grateful for the chance to study internationally. “Those things were really important. I also had good luck finding professors for jobs and advice and I think that's crucial.”

An amateur photographer and dragonboat team member, Kwan says he will miss SFU, with its proximity to the wilderness and extensive hiking trails.